Blog, Industry Tips, Marketing, T-Shirts

Transfer Printing and how it Works


Transfer Printing is a method used to transfer an image from one surface to another, permanently. Nowadays the process is mostly used to transfer designs onto t-shirts or other kind of garments. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish Transfer Printing from other printing techniques like screen-printing or cad cut vinyl. What sets it apart is the fact that Transfer Printing is the only printing technique where heat is applied at the end to set the image.

Different stages of transfer printing: 

Image selection

You can choose virtually any image for transfer printing. It’s way of transferring allows for both complex (with many colours) and simple (with a few colours) images to be printed. Thanks to the fact that the design is printed onto paper first instead of the garment, it allows for more intricate details to show when compared to DTG that may have a more “blurry” finish.

transfer-printingHeat transfer

Once the design has been selected, it is printed on a special heat transfer paper which is then positioned on the garment. The paper is later squashed against the fabric using a heat press. It is left this way for however amount of time is necessary for the heat to do its job. After the required amount of time has passed, the press if lifted and the garment is left alone to cool down. If everything went well, then you should have a quality finish t-shirt.

heat-transfer-printingHow does it work?

Most professional t shirt printers now a days use a more sophisticated version of the simple iron-on method, but the basics are still the same. What happens is that the heat transfer machine releases the right amount of pressure, holds the garment in place and has a consistent temperature which allows the colour pigments to be transferred from one surface to the other. Heat transfer literally melts the image onto the fabric.

Heat Transfer Paper

It’s advisable to use commercial heat transfer paper as this will give the image a much better quality finish, lasts longer and won’t fade, bleed or peel. Cheap paper is not suitable for professional looking print since it is likely to show a line around where it’s cut and have that awful shiny finish, making the garment look very ‘homemade’.

distressed logo


  • Inexpensive
  • Good for small quantities
  • Can print complex images with many colours and intricate designs
  • Prints on any garment regardless of colour
  • Easy for amateurs
  • Clean (screen printing can be very messy)


  • Not practical for large quantities
  • Not as flexible when it comes to printing on different kinds of materials
  • Each design must be cut one by one

About Erik Mickelson

Erik Mickelson is the author of Northwest Custom Apparel's blogs. Erik has been with Northwest Custom Apparel since 1996 after graduating from Washington State University and is the founder of the Apparel Graphic Academy. Trained by the custom graphic apparel industry's best, Mark Venit, Erik brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the Embroidery Adventure blog. As they say, 'Experience is the best teacher.' We are proud to have Erik as part of our team!

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